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Review: The Case for Christ (2017)

The Case for Christ (2017)

Directed by: Jon Gunn

Premise: Based on the book by Lee Strobel. Chicago Tribune journalist and atheist Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) investigates the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his wife (Erika Christensen) has a spiritual awakening.

What Works: The Case for Christ is the latest release from Pure Flix Entertainment, a faith-based media company that specializes in making Christianity-themed dramas like the God’s Not Dead films. The Case for Christ is a major step up from the company’s other releases. It’s a much more polished production. A lot of titles from Pure Flix and other faith-based film studios suffer from cheap production values but The Case for Christ looks and sounds like a real movie. Perhaps more importantly, The Case for Christ resists some of the uglier tendencies of films like this. Quite a few of the titles in the faith-based film market tend to play to the worst instincts of their target audience. The God’s Not Dead movies reinforced religious tribalism, advanced anti-intellectualism, distorted real life religious conflicts, and demonized those who don’t fit within a narrow interpretation of Christianity. The Case for Christ does not do those things. It is does have an agenda but the filmmakers are primarily focused on the family drama and they do that pretty well. This is the story of a couple passing through a rough patch; the marriage between Lee Strobel and his wife Leslie reaches a crisis point over their differing opinions about religion. He feels that religion is a superstition at best and a scam at worst while she tries to share her spiritual epiphany with her husband. Both characters believe their positions earnestly and while Strobel is frequently condescending he’s not a bad guy and his skepticism is connected to his strained relationship with his father (Robert Forster). Actors Mike Vogel and Erika Christiansen are convincing as the Strobels and they have the authentic rapport of a married couple.

What Doesn’t: The crux of The Case for Christ is Strobel’s investigation into the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this is much less interesting than the family drama and the investigative sequences frequently feel like they are out of a different movie. Strobel travels across the country meeting with experts in archeology, medical science, and psychology and each of his interviewees foil his attempts to rationally explain the resurrection. The interviews are frequently dry exposition dumps. They aren’t very well dramatized and they are awkwardly staged. As a drama about a newspaper investigation, The Case for Christ relies upon journalistic clichés with Strobel spending lots of screen time in a basement facing a whiteboard covered in photos and documents connected by lines and scribbled notes. The Case for Christ also falls short as an argument. The filmmakers lose track of exactly what they are attempting to prove. The investigation zigzags between interrogating the factuality of the resurrection and proving that Jesus was an actual historical figure. These are two different questions that require different evidence and the movie pulls a bait and switch, using proof of Jesus’ historical life and death as evidence of his resurrection. The theological inquiry is crosscut with Strobel’s investigation of a street crime in which a local gang member is accused of shooting a police officer. The subplot is intended to parallel and inform the resurrection investigation but these storylines don’t dovetail together in a meaningful way. Instead, the criminal story just prolongs and overloads the story. There is a lot going on in The Case for Christ and the movie sags under the weight of it. The film is dramatically sluggish and the filmmakers allow their religious agenda to overtake the needs of storytelling.

Bottom Line: Like most religious movies, The Case for Christ was made for an audience of the converted and it tells them what they want to hear. As that, it’s a much better film than the average faith-based title. This is a flawed movie, especially as a dramatized argument, but taken for what it is The Case for Christ is a modest success that its intended audience will enjoy.

Episode: #643 (April, 16, 2017)